Sunday's 5-3 win over Arizona was as tense as any of them, but don't expect the players to place the past few wild weeks in proper perspective.
Manager Joe Torre can do that, flashing back to the 1982 race between his Atlanta Braves and Tom Lasorda's Dodgers. Torre remembers blowing a 9 1/2-game lead by losing 19 of 21 in August (eight straight to the Dodgers), then reeling off 13 wins in 15 September games and taking the division when San Francisco's Joe Morgan pulled a Bobby Thomson off Terry Forster on the last day of the season to crush the Dodgers and clinch it for the Braves.
"It was one of those Dramamine trips," said Torre. "So many ups and downs."
Speaking of trips, the Dodgers could hardly spend time celebrating their latest good fortune because they had to board buses to San Diego and start a three-city, 10-game trip. The Padres, as Dodgers fans have learned over the years, plays the spoiler role as well as anybody.
"If we get caught in that trap," Torre said about looking ahead toward tougher opponents, "we should be ashamed of ourselves. You can't throw your gloves on the field and automatically beat somebody. We talk all about it, not looking past anybody."
Three weeks ago, Torre's club faced a journey similar in length and didn't show up the first eight games. Then the Dodgers made up six games in an eight-game stretch. Still, they are 28-40 on the road this year (45-30 at home) and must play 13 of the last 19 away, so it's a little premature to be mulling over postseason roster spots.
"It's incredible to lose eight and turn around in that big of a hurry," said Torre. "Now the responsibility is on us. It's our lead, we'll see what we can do with it. If we don't win, it's nobody's fault but ours."
What they saw Sunday was Nomar Garciaparra -- replaced at shortstop by Angel Berroa and reduced to the utility role in September that many envisioned for him before the year began -- make a game-saving layout catch of Conor Jackson's game-ending line drive that probably would have tied things up.
"We're just playing with heart and desire every inning and every pitch," said catcher Russell Martin.
Sunday's win started with Clayton Kershaw and ended with Jonathan Broxton, a pair of 20-somethings who weren't yet born during Torre's '82 "roller-coaster" race. Kershaw ("overthrowing," according to Torre) lasted only four innings in a duel against another rookie, Arizona's Max Scherzer, who was overpowering, striking out 11 in five-plus innings.
"I just didn't have it today," said Kershaw.
The final out of the game was the fifth out recorded by Broxton, whose 13th save included three strikeouts, two of them in the eighth with the tying runs on base, the inning ending with a 100-mph fastball that pinch-hitter Miguel Montero couldn't hit.
Broxton was the fourth Dodgers reliever in another remarkable outing by the bullpen. Scott Proctor, Chan Ho Park, winner Hong-Chih Kuo (5-2) and Broxton combined for five scoreless innings to keep the game in hand and give the offense a chance to win it.
Arizona, losers of 10-of-13, cooperated greatly. Leaving the bases loaded in Kershaw's 31-pitch first inning helped, then the Diamondbacks ran out of a run in the sixth inning when Chris Snyder, who homered and doubled his previous two at-bats, was given the squeeze sign by manager Bob Melvin and missed the ball, allowing Martin to run down Mark Reynolds.
Worse for the Diamondbacks, they committed a pair of errors in the decisive two-run seventh. Adam Dunn, playing out of position at first base, kicked Berroa's sacrifice bunt after Blake DeWitt's leadoff double. Garciaparra hit a sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run, but Justin Upton dropped the ball after making the catch, allowing Berroa to move into position to score an insurance run when Andre Ethier's smash ate up shortstop Stephen Drew for an RBI infield single.
Ethier also scored the first Dodgers run. His first-inning single was followed by Ramirez's double off the fence and they both came home on James Loney's broken-bat single. Loney's third RBI came in the sixth, after Ethier's leadoff walk and a single.